By Jason Menard
Break out the flags, line up the fireworks, cue up Anne Murray – Canada Day is almost upon us and it’s time to celebrate. But, for many of us, the question is what exactly are we celebrating?
Canada Day is a day when we’re supposed to celebrate what it means to be Canadians (well, most of us will be. July 1 also happens to be “Moving Day” in Quebec, so thousands of Quebecers will eventually be celebrating – but first they have to set up their living room). But if you ask 100 people what it means to be Canadian, chances are you’ll get 100 different answers.
However, the one common thread that you’ll hear when asked what it means to be a Canadian is the refrain, “Well, we’re not American.” As if playing the game of negative association is definition enough. But instead of disregarding that statement completely, maybe juxtaposing ourselves with our neighbours south of the 49 th parallel isn’t such a bad exercise.
The most noticeable difference is that, while it’s somewhat more clear what it means to be an American, we’ve accepted that there is simply no one suitable definition of who or what a Canadian is. The U.S. is fond of using the melting pot analogy. No matter where you’re from, you’re mixed into the Great American Melting Pot and the resulting soup is whole-heartedly American. As Canadians, we’ve found that homogenous soup a little watery for our tastes – and we prefer to savour all the meats of our cultural stew.
Instead of working in the kitchen over the melting pot, we’ve chosen to sit in the living room weaving our cultural mosaic. People coming to Canada are, for the most part, encouraged to retain their cultural identity and add it to our national fabric. And while our commitment to diversity has resulted in a few frayed edges from time to time (Quebec and Western separatists spring to mind), we’ve understood that a patchwork quilt made up of many different threads, in the long run, is much stronger than one woven from the same fabric.
We are thinkers, not doers. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, we prefer pensive reflection. While our friends to the south are often swayed by passion to act, we find ourselves willing to let the first flames of passion subside to allow for a more controlled burn. The people of Canada refuse to let emotion drive their actions. Case in point, while we may be angered by the revelations that have come out of the sponsorship scandal, we have chosen to take a wait-and-see approach to the eventual results. The day of reckoning or absolution will eventually come and we have chosen to let nature take its course.
But we’re more than just the sum of our opposites. We are a nation that’s trying to do our best – even if we stumble along the way. And even our negatives turn into positives.
As a nation, we’re subject to a huge inferiority complex. Living next to a country 10 times your size will do that to you. Because of this, we have a deep-seeded need to be liked, and that has resulted in our desire to be a player on the international stage. And while we may not have the wherewithal to take a starring role, we relish the opportunity to be the facilitator and mediator of the story. Our historical role as moderators and peace-keepers is well-earned, and our consternation over our recent devaluation in this role in the eyes of the world spurs us to redouble our efforts.
We are a nation not given to extremism. In the long run, we govern ourselves with compassion and moderation. We choose not to get caught up in hyperbole and prefer to ground ourselves in humanity. Our national commitment to social programs, universal health care, and equal rights reflects that. And while certain issues may spark intense debate – and the gay marriage legislation is a prime example – in the end we choose the humane decision.
And, just as importantly, we have a sense of humour about ourselves. We’re so much more than the toque-wearing, eh-saying, uber-polite, hockey-watching hosers that we’re often portrayed as, but we have the ability to go along with the joke and play it up for our own benefit. We’re so confident in who we are intrinsically that we’re able to laugh at ourselves.
In the end, Canadians are defined not by the perceived cold of our climate, but rather the tangible warmth of our hearts. And that’s truly something to celebrate.
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